Don Sterling Scandal Lends Nod to Importance of Crisis Management Plan
Black Enterprise Magazine January-March 2019 Issue

Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling is under fire for allegedly making racist comments, which were recorded and released to the media, with NBA players protesting and many sports industry leaders calling for his termination. His views, reportedly said during a conversation with his mistress girlfriend, about African-Americans and Hispanics have sparked an uproar among fans, sports watchers and the Web, and put the whole NBA in crisis mode as the team loses sponsors and fans.

In what has played out like a juicy Scandal episode, Sterling’s case involves volatile, more-than-controversial  statements, an estranged wife, and a spark that lights the investigation into cases of previous infractions (including a 2009 housing discrimination lawsuit that was settled for $2.73 million.)

The news about Sterling—and the many other major sports, politics, business and entertainment leaders who have been on the wrong side of controversy— should motivate all leaders to think about the implications of what they say and do, whether public or private. But beyond the despicable aspect of racism and discrimination involved, any leader worth their salt should know that the use of social media and technology can make or break a career within seconds and thus should have a plan in place to handle any crisis that could come their way—if any even comes at all.

You may never face a crisis of Sterling’s magnitude, but a leader must always be prepared to deal with crisis management and know how to deal with common, sometimes unavoidable aspects of doing business, such as corporate disasters, social media snafus, legal cases or career-ending mistakes.

As new NBA commissioner Adam Silver evaluates the authenticity of the recordings and how the league will respond, check out tips all leaders should look into in terms of being prepared to deal with any crisis:

Create a plan before the crisis presents itself: Don’t wait until there’s a problem to plan the response response, experts advise. In this plan, a leader must decide who will be in charge, policies on insurance or response, if applicable, and who, if not yourself, will be the spokesperson to respond. An effective leader with media training is a plus for this, with some leaders hiring crisis-management and PR experts to create a plan.

Know your purpose for response and possible outcomes. Experts also advise knowing why you’re responding and worst-case scenarios for the aftermath of the response. In terms of responding to a company mistakes, for example, focusing on the positives and how you’ll rectify the situation is advised. Also, humility is cited as a great quality to rely on in the face of an oversight or fault.

Build a repetoire of good relationships. It’s also advised during any crisis to already have a track-record of good relationships with industry peers and leaders. In Sterling’s case, he may not have many since there is reportedly a history of racism throughout his career, but having advocates to vouch for you, especially in cases where allegations, conflict, negative press or controversy are unfounded or have not been confirmed as true.

If you’re a leader at your company—or ever plan to become one—being prepared to respond with emotional intelligence and savvy to a crisis can prove to be the catalyst for longevity—and cushion the blow of rebounding if you are ever faced with a challenge.

Check out more tips on crisis management and reviving a broken brand here.

Janell Hazelwood

Janell Hazelwood is associate managing editor at Black Enterprise, managing content across core areas of Money, Career, Small Business and Technology. She is also a featured blogger with My Two Cents, providing insights on branding, millennial career development, employment trends and leadership. She was previously a content producer and copy editor for Black Enterprise magazine, working across several editorial sections. The Hampton University graduate got her start in the newspaper industry, having worked for companies including The New York Times and Scripps Howard News Service. Her works and insights have appeared on The Huffington Post, MadameNoire, E!Online, Brazen Careerist, CBS News, and Arise TV.